Catching the Golden State Killer and over a dozen more true crime stories that reveal humanity at its darkest but also at its best and bravest

By Patrick Rogers
April 06, 2020 04:48 PM
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People True Crime Stories

It’s undeniable: Well told crime stories carry a can’t-look-away allure and the power to shock, to move, even to inspire us to action. Beyond their sometimes gruesome details, they feature heroic, dogged investigators; good Samaritans putting themselves in harm’s way; communities that pull together and, occasionally, fortunate and resourceful victims who escape mortal danger.

Now PEOPLE has collected the best of the magazine’s recent crime coverage with new updates in a special edition True Crime Stories. Inside is the latest on the headline trials of accused killer Robert Durst, and of Chris Watts, who confessed to murdering his wife and young children in order to start a new life with his girlfriend. Also, new details of how DNA evidence may offer hope in the unsolved disappearances of dozens of women in Texas, and how it was used to successfully end the 40-year hunt for The Golden State Killer.

Paul Holes
Paul Holes
| Credit: Laura A. Oda/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty

After murdering 13 people and sexually assaulting 45 beginning in 1975, the Golden State Killer (as he was known during his decades of anonymity) disappeared in 1986. Forensics investigator Paul Holes had spent much of his 25-year-career in pursuit of the man he calls, “the worst serial predator we ever had.” The breakthrough in the case came in 2018 when a genetic geneologist, Barbara Rae-Venter who did volunteer work for the website DNAadoption.com, helped a kidnapped child find her family by uploading her DNA to genealogy databases. Holes contacted Rae-Venter and asked, “Could this method be used to ID an unknown offender?” Her response was, “I don’t see why it wouldn’t.”

With his forensics team Holes, who now hosts the Oxygen series The DNA of Murder, used a searchable profile from DNA collected at the scene of a double murder and rape in Ventura, Calif., in 1980 that a meticulous crime lab had been preserved in a freezer. The genetic profile was uploaded to the geneology website GEDMatch and within hours yielded matches with other DNA profiles in the database— distant cousins of the still-nameless killer.

Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo galleryCredit: FBI
Credit: FBI

By analyzing the family trees of each positive hit and using old-fashioned detective work, Holes and his team narrowed the pool of possible suspects by gender, age, region and profession until they arrived at a name investigators had never previously heard: Joseph DeAngelo of Citrus Heights, Calif. They confirmed their hunch by directly matching the killer’s DNA with a tissue discarded by DeAngelo in a trash can. On April 25, 2018 DeAngelo, then 72, was arrested at the home he shared with one of his three grown children, and a grandchild. In March this year he offered a guilty plea in order to avoid the death penalty. Bringing him to justice, Sheriff Scott Jones told PEOPLE, was “like catching Jack the Ripper.”

People’s new special edition, True Crime Stories, is available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.